Note: I started this as a reply to a comment on my review of Marooned in Realtime, but it grew to the point where I decided to split it out into its own post.

Well, the most important Asimov to read is the Robot-Empire-Foundation series (which is actually three separate series that he joined into the same universe after the fact). Wiki can give you the full list in chronological order, but I think how you read them depends on what you’re looking for.

In my opinion, the natural entry points are Caves of Steel (the first robot mystery), Foundation (the first foundation book published), or Prelude to Foundation (the first foundation book chronologically, at least as far as the ones written by Asimov himself go). I didn’t include The Currents of Space, the first Empire book, because I really think the Empire books are the weakest of the three series and I mostly read them as background for the Foundation books that came after the series were connected.

Caves is a detective novel in a sci-fi setting, more or less. It posits an interesting future Earth where the cities have been domed over and the land in between is reserved for robot agriculture. At this point Earth has also colonized many exoplanets and the people on them have created a distinct culture that is very different from Earth’s. Most of the conflict in the book is between Earth and Spacer culture and centers around the use of robots, which Spacers take for granted but Earthers only accept in a very racist/slave owner sort of way.

Foundation is probably the most famous book Asimov ever wrote, even though it’s actually a collection of serial shorts he wrote over the course of a decade. In some ways, it is like Marooned because it tries to capture human events on an epic time scale. The difference is that Foundation is concerned with the course of civilizations rather than individuals. The galactic empire is slowly falling, and Foundation is mostly about how you pick up the pieces of humanity after decline and fall.

Prelude to Foundation is exactly what it sounds like, a novel dedicated to the events before Foundation itself. It tells the story of a young Hari Seldon, the genius who tried to mitigate the damage of the collapsing empire. The reason I’d include it as one of the entry points to the series isn’t as much about chronology as it is about the story itself. Asimov’s early work was pretty rough by modern standards. It was all about the ideas, and things like characterization were not handled all that well. In addition, because Asimov’s ideas were so wonderful they have been copied and expanded upon since his original versions came out. They tend to lose some power now because you think “well, that’s just like x” except that you have to stop and realize that Asimov was the one who did it first and made x possible. Prelude, however, was written in the 80’s when Asimov was a much more complete storyteller, so it is more accessible to modern readers than Foundation might be.

Other starter Asimov that’s worth looking at are the robot short stories (collected in I, Robot among many others, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the movie), The Gods Themselves, Nightfall, or Azazel (for something a little different). Personally, I think a lot of his best work is in his short stories, so grabbing a collection is not a bad way to get into his writing.

Orbit announced today that Little, Brown UK announced the audio version of Transition by Iain M. Banks will be available as a free podcast beginning on September 3, its publication date. Banks is best known for his series of science fiction novels set in the Culture universe, but he writes some science fiction novels not set in the Culture and this is one of them (he also writes mainsteam fictions as Iain Banks). I’ve read two of the Culture novels, The Player of Games and Use of Weapons, and absolutely loved them both. They were simultaneously intelligent and entertaining, and The Player of Games was one of my very favorite books I read last year. I really want to read some more of the Culture novels, and Against a Dark Background sounds intriguing, too.

This week over at Babel Clash, the new Borders Sci-Fi book blog, fantasy authors Joe Abercrombie (author of the First Law trilogy and Best Served Cold) and Brent Weeks (author of the Night Angel trilogy) have been virtual brawling. I almost missed this because my RSS feed for this blog had stopped working, but fortunately, I heard about it in time to catch it – it has been a most entertaining debate.

Speaking of Best Served Cold, that’s what I’m reading right now. It’s already out in some countries, and it will be out in the US on July 29 (although I’ve heard Amazon is already shipping it). Best Served Cold is a stand alone book set in the same world as the First Law trilogy. So far, it’s pretty good – although, like First Law, it’s not something I’d recommend to people who like characters with tendencies toward goodness and heroics and all that jazz.

I’m halfway through a review of Archangel by Sharon Shinn and hope to have that up in the next couple of days. It’s almost the weekend; I always have more brain power for writing reviews then.

Marooned in Realtime
by Vernor Vinge
288pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.04/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5

Vernor Vinge, in the days before he became a three-times-running Hugo award winning author, was merely a two-times-running Hugo nominated author. Last year I reviewed the first of those two novels, The Peace War. The second novel, Marooned in Realtime, is a sequel to Peace in the sense that it takes place in the same universe and timeline, but you have to think rather broadly to call it a sequel given the fifty million years that pass between the two books. Then again…

Mysteries are inherent to the lives of many living in the small community around Korolev Castle. The Rag-Tag Town is a collection of a few hundred survivors that represent the last dribs and drabs of humanity. Why this might be, nobody knows; whatever caused the rest of the human race to disappear happened while the survivors were trapped in bobbles, a sufficiently advanced technology that removes a chunk of the universe from reality by wrapping it in an impenetrable sphere. No time passes within bobbles though, and eventually bobbles burst to release their contents back into the normal frame of spacetime exactly as they were when the bobble was created.

Beyond the great mystery of what happened to billions of people on Earth and spread throughout the Solar system, many of the town’s residents have much more personal mysteries. Some have no idea where-or when-their neighbors come from. Even many of those who do know are not sharing their knowledge since most of them are the high-techs, a group of people who were bobbled very close to the disappearance and have the highest levels of technology and power-and therefore intrigue-in the community. Wil Brierson, former detective, has an extra mystery: he doesn’t know who bobbled him fifty million years ago, taking him away from his life and family in the 22nd century and throwing him into an unimaginably distant future.

Unfortunately, not all of the mysteries are quite that old. Yelén Korolev, the woman who has been gathering together the last remnants of humanity over the course of millions of years, has been killed. The murder weapon: old age. The computers controlling the town’s bobblers were hacked to initiate a hundred year bobble while Korolev was stranded outside in realtime, leaving her to live out the next forty years as the only person on the planet before she finally succumbed. Now Brierson has to start unraveling some of the secrets surrounding the last members of the human race to figure out who killed her before the fight to fill the power vacuum left by her death destroys them all.


In my review of The Peace War I said that it felt like a throwback sort of novel, more like a Golden Age sci-fi book than one that was written in the 1980s. Marooned in Realtime had a similar feel, but for a completely different reason. While The Peace War had a similar structure to many of the stories that came out of that age, Marooned in Realtime reminded me very specifically of Issac Asimov’s Robot mysteries. Beyond the stylistic similarities that it shares with Peace, Marooned seems to draw on many of the same character archetypes that Asimov used in books like The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. In particular, Brierson and his de facto partner Della Lu map nicely onto Lije Bailey and R. Daneel, so it was very easy for me to think of Marooned in those terms.

All of these similarities make it difficult for me to judge Marooned objectively. The Robot novels are basically what I learned to read by and have remained some of my favorite science fiction books ever since (despite Asimov’s early flaws as a storyteller, which I certainly acknowledge). So reading Marooned put me back in my happy-fuzzy-little-kid place, and it would be almost impossible for me to have not liked it because of that.

That being said, Vinge was a better storyteller at the time he wrote Marooned than Asimov was at the time he wrote Caves. Brierson and Lu are much more human than Bailey and Daneel (and not just for the obvious reason), and the supporting cast Vinge created are certainly crafted with more subtlety than what Asimov wrote. Even more impressive, though, is that Vinge – at the late date of 1986 – manages to create a world that is as far outside the experience of many modern sci-fi readers as Asmiov’s was to his readers in the 1950’s. While hard sci-fi has thoroughly explored the social and technological implications of space travel, it has not gone nearly as far in looking at travel across great gaps of time, and most of those books still get caught up in playing with the rules of causality or the implications of MWI. The bobbler gives Vinge an opportunity to look at time travel in a very intuitive way: by making it into something that isn’t really time travel. The universe continues on as normal, it’s just that certain parts of it drop out for a while and then reappear. It is an entirely linear one-way process that is simple to understand, and because of this Vinge can focus on what is really going on when humans live out their lives on a geological time scale.

The RTT is also rendered very well, and it provides a very clear picture of Vinge’s technological singularity concept. (Of course, it seems a little odd that the point of the singularity is that we cannot predict what the other side will look like and this book takes place entirely on the other side of it, but the disappearance of most of humanity neatly sidesteps this issue.) There are enough elements carried forward from Peace that Marooned can be rightly called a sequel, but the circumstances of the RTT are so different from the world of Peace that it feels like of bit of a cheat to connect them in that way. Peace‘s world was interesting; Marooned‘s town is unique. Vinge did flavor Marooned with a bit more of his math and computer science background than appeared in Peace, but being the geek that I am, that didn’t exactly hurt it in my view.

Marooned in Realtime lacks the tremendous depth and scope of Vinge’s later works, but the fascinating ideas behind many of his recent books are present in full force. Despite the distance between them The Peace War should still be read before Marooned due to spoilers, but ultimately, both should be read and enjoyed.

8/10

Jul
16
2009

Cry Wolf
by Patricia Briggs
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.08/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.9/5

Cry Wolf is the first book in the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, which is set in the same universe as her Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series. It features a different set of main characters, the werewolf Anna and her mate Charles (Bran’s son and assassin), but Mercy is mentioned on occasion, Samuel makes a brief appearance, and Bran himself is present throughout a large portion of the book. The second book in the series, Hunting Ground, will be released on August 25, 2009. Technically, the first installment in the series is a novella about how Charles and Anna met called “Alpha and Omega” in the On the Prowl anthology. The beginning of Cry Wolf is a little confusing without knowing what happened in this story; however, once you get further along, the previous events from the novella are explained.

Cry Wolf does seem to throw you into the story without all the details since it continues the story begun in the “Alpha and Omega” novella. Charles has been badly injured from a fight with Anna’s pack leader and must stay in wolf form to heal himself. While Charles is lying low, Bran helps Anna pack up her meager belongings from her apartment so she can move to Montana with Charles. Soon after landing in Montana, Bran hears rumors about a monster in the Cabinet Wilderness and suspects it may be a rogue werewolf. With Charles injured, Bran is hesitant to pursue the matter but when a man from Search and Rescue is attacked by a werewolf in the same area, it is up to Charles and Anna to put a stop to it.


Perhaps it was just because I did find I didn’t know all the details of what was happening in the beginning, but I had a very hard time relating to Charles and Anna. As the story progressed, it did make more sense, but I still didn’t come to care very much about either main protagonist. Although both were likable enough, I didn’t find either to be particularly interesting. Charles had some promise with his conflicted nature – he was his father’s assassin but he also valued life and preferred not to take it unless absolutely necessary. This was not explored to the extent I would have liked since much of the story was devoted to the growing relationship between Anna and Charles, but perhaps it will be expanded in future novels, especially since this book did seem to be introducing the characters and their histories. Anna was very sweet and compassionate but she was one of those characters who is a little too good for my taste, although I did enjoy learning about what it meant for her to be an Omega wolf. She had insecurities and a history of abuse by her former pack leader, but she did not seem to have any real personality flaws. That may have been fine, but I couldn’t help comparing her to Mercy from the parallel series by Briggs. Mercy is also generally very good, but she’s also a very vividly written character with a bright personality and a very appealing sense of humor. Anna was far more serious, and Mercy just felt more real and alive to me. This is not necessarily a flaw since there are some reserved people in the world (really, I’m one of them), but Mercy and her friends were far more compelling reading.

Even though Anna and Charles were not particularly compelling to me, I did find some of the more minor characters very engaging to read about, particularly Bran. The Marrok (werewolf leader of the entire U.S.) is mentioned, but he played a more major role in this novel than in the Mercy Thompson books. Some of his abilities and the reason behind his marrying that bitch (literally and figuratively) Leah were explained. A new character I did find intriguing was Asil, one of the oldest werewolves. His mate had been an Omega wolf until she was tortured to death and he was still haunted by dreams to the extent where he wanted Bran to kill him. Samuel’s brief appearance did make me long for the Mercy Thompson series since he also had more personality and charisma than either Anna or Charles.

A lot of this novel was focused on the relationship problems of Charles and Anna, whose wolf sides had immediately connected while their human sides were having more difficulty with the new relationship. Many of their insecurities and issues would have been easily resolved if they had just communicated with one another, which I found very annoying. On occasion I enjoy reading about romance and misunderstandings between couples but they have to hit just the right nerve with me and have enough other plot elements interspersed with it to keep me from getting bored with it (all of the summer Shakespeare plays you’ve taken me to would disagree – Ed.). For the first half of this book, I found the romance tedious in that regard and just wanted Anna and Charles to move on and quit being so introspective.

Toward the end of this book, I did find it to be more engaging as it delved more into the actual plot instead of the emotional woes of Charles and Anna. Because of this and the fact that this did feel like a novel that was still introducing the series and main characters, I will give the next book a chance even though I wasn’t entirely convinced this one was worth my time. It was still was not up to the caliber of the Mercy Thompson series for me, but I have found each of those books to be better than the previous one so I will give this one the benefit of the doubt, particularly since I did enjoy some of the minor characters and learning more about the werewolves.

While the Mercy Thompson series centers on several different mythical creatures with individual books dedicated to werewolves, vampires, and fae, this one concentrated on the werewolves. This mythology was one of the strengths of the novel since I found reading more about the abilities of the pack and how the werewolves function one of its more engaging aspects. It did include information about the pack that has not been mentioned in at least the first three Mercy Thompson novels, which makes perfect sense since Mercy herself is not a werewolf but a skinwalker. Like the Mercy Thompson novels, this one includes a definite Native American influence since Charles’s mother was one and he has some abilities based on this heritage. I do like that these books are not just limited to European mythology even though that is where most of the paranormal races included come from.

Cry Wolf shows glimmers of promise but pales in comparison to its parallel series about Mercy Thompson. The main protagonists failed to be compelling, but some of the other characters were very engaging. In addition, there were enough interesting tidbits of information about the Marrok and the werewolves to keep me reading. Once the book delved into the actual plot toward the end, I found it much more readable, but until that point, it was too focused on the relationship of two characters I did not particularly care about. However, the second half of the book was stronger than the first. Because of that and my love for the first series set in this universe, I will most likely read Hunting Ground sometime after it comes out next month.

6/10

Read Prologue and Chapter One

Jul
13
2009

Now that I’m back from Vegas and not spending time preparing for Vegas, I’m hoping to get back into writing some of these book reviews that are piling up. (At some point, there may be a post about Vegas adventures but right now I’m too tired.)

The books I’ve read but not yet reviewed are Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie, Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs, and Archangel by Sharon Shinn (which did end up being my book for airplane reading since so many recommended it, it was a book I had, and it was the book I had with the cover that made it least likely that John would leave me in New York if I read it in public). Since there are plenty of reviews of Last Argument of Kings already, I may end up just writing a few thoughts on that one depending on how long it takes me to write the other reviews. Cry Wolf was somewhat of a disappointment for me in comparison to the Mercy Thompson series, but it picked up enough by the end that I’ll probably give the next book a shot sometime after it comes out next month. Archangel was very good although the main character was the type that you just wanted to talk some sense into sometimes.

Now that I will (hopefully) have some time again, I am going to finish Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, which I am very impressed with so far. It’s a beautiful intertwining of stories, but it is also definitely a book that is best read all at once. I felt a bit lost when I picked it up last night after a bit of a break from reading it. After that, I’ll probably start Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, Medicine Road by Charles de Lint, or Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliot. I want to read Best Served Cold by the end of the month but I might try to squeeze in something shorter first if time permits it.

Jul
12
2009

The 5 winners of The Purifying Fire, the new Magic: The Gathering novel by Laura Resnick, have been drawn with the help of random.org. The winners are:

Jeff H, Pennsylvania
Timothy Y, Canada
Matt A, New York
Alan G, New York
Mihai A, Romania

Congratulations to all the winners! I hope you enjoy the book!